On Monday night, with confident impunity, the Conservative party staged a grand ritual reenactment of its “cash for access” ethos, hosting a £20,000-a-table fundraiser at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Putin’s former deputy finance minister, and one-time Neighbours star Holly Valance, were among wealth-smeared guests invited to bid for a three-pronged dinner experience with Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Theresa May. The horrific meal, which would doubtless mostly feature May patiently trying to clean up the mess made by Cameron and Johnson, eventually went for £120,000 or the cost of 49,792 school dinners at £2.41 a time.
Given that Nadine Dorries had already blabbed, before the confidence vote earlier this month, on how deeply the party was beholden to its donors, you’d think the Conservatives would now be keen to avoid appearing so conspicuously up for rent and would have held the event somewhere secret, such as the vault storing the unredacted Russia report, Sue Gray’s findings on the Abba party and the rest of Johnson’s unaccounted for children.
But to the Conservatives, the whole world is just a urine-stained phone box, its peeling red paint walls stickered with gaudy advertisements for services available. Peerships? PPE contracts? Peeing? That will do nicely, sir, and would you like to stroke Lulu Lytle’s gold wallpaper too? But wait, my old friend, I am getting ahead of myself. Sit down here a while by the fire and eat this rustic cheese. I would value your opinion on the most curious tale I am about to tell you.
As you may know, during lockdown, the critically acclaimed rockumentary I made with the director Michael Cumming, King Rocker (“The new gold standard for rockumentaries” – the Scotsman), trickled out on to streaming services. Soon, we were the proud recipients of a certificate, personally signed by the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden himself, stating that we had made a “British film” that dealt with “British themes”. We were glad to have contributed towards Brexit Britain’s cultural renaissance and were relieved, in the current climate, not to have made anything that could be considered remotely foreign. But what would we turn our crowdfunded cameras on next?
During my lockdown perambulations, I had become fascinated by various Hackney addresses that had each been occupied, at various times, by different significant cultural figures. Who knew that the same flat above a minicab company in Dalston had, centuries apart, been the home of the radical pamphleteer Daniel Defoe, the radical parents of the radical pre-Raphaelite ceramicist William De Morgan, and the drummer from Britpop-era hit-makers Dodgy?
I posited a cinematic satire of psychogeography in which Dodgy’s 1996 hit Good Enough somehow exerts an influence, backwards through time, on De Morgan’s idealistic decision to join William Morris in aiming to improve ordinary people’s lives with a focus on both beauty and function. “If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me!”
Is Coleridge the museum’s pimp, and Elliot the man who puts his cards in the telephone boxes?
With this idea in mind, I have spent the spare moments of my current standup tour seeking out examples of De Morgan’s work in various provincial collections, the highlight being Guildford’s Watts Gallery (though Bradford Cathedral had some nice De Morgan stained glass), before finally contacting the Victoria and Albert’s head of ceramics, Dr Wilhelmina Mezzotint, in an attempt to gain direct access to some of his finest art. Our idea was to film the drummer from Dodgy beating out the rhythm to Good Enough on one of De Morgan’s now priceless Fulham-fired vases and Mezzotint had seemed amenable. But, old friend, strange forces were to put a stop to our plans.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s chair is Conservative donor Nicholas Coleridge and its board includes Ben Elliot, the Tory co-chairman, recently exposed as a professional oligarch facilitator, smoothing the London social paths for some of Putin’s closest friends under the auspices of his Quintessentially company. Solidarity with Ukraine!
In a past Conservative fundraiser, one of the auction prizes was a private tour of the museum itself hosted by Coleridge. But the museum is a charitable body owned by the public and its trustees, its charter states, should be politically impartial. Is Coleridge the museum’s pimp and Elliot the man who puts his cards in the telephone boxes? Coleridge and his Conservative friends have made our museum, that grande dame of Kensington, their whore. Poor old duchess in her William Morris wallpapered boudoir! Her knees will not take it. For God’s sake, Coleridge, show some compassion! Have some shame!! This is a temple of culture, not a brothel where you entertain your clients.
In Western Australia, 25 years ago, I took a daytime tourist tour of a still functioning 19th-century frontier bordello in the mining city of Kalgoorlie. Its flocked interior had more dignity than the Victoria and Albert does today, the museum suddenly little more than a filthy corner for the Conservatives to do their foul business, donors slapping dirty cash down on the dressing table as they leave, spent and ashamed.
Mezzotint contacted me in a panic on Tuesday morning. She was Dutch and I had always suspected that once she had found out who I and the drummer from Dodgy were, from more culturally clued-in colleagues, she would deny us access to De Morgan’s pottery and indeed our meeting was off. But not for the reasons I imagined. Mezzotint had come into work that morning to find that the designs were disappearing, before her eyes, from De Morgan’s tiles and vases. Panicked staff tested the air - was some stray chemical stripping the ceramics? - and then mobile phones began buzzing in chorus, as heads of department all over the building reported the sudden and inexplicable deterioration of the artefacts in their care. What could be causing it? Was it something they had done?
• Edinburgh fringe shows, and dates for the 2022/3 show, Basic Lee, are all on sale